Why would not the WHO rule out the speculation of a laboratory leak anymore?

The origin of SARS-CoV-2 remains an enigma. Two and a half years after the beginning of the pandemic, the WHO released a new report a few days ago, in which the hypothesis of a laboratory accident is no longer excluded. According to experts, this clue requires “additional investigations”. At the same time, influential American economist Jeffrey Sachs called for an in-depth investigation into the origin of the virus, in the United States and not China. Because ? In a nutshell, all the assumptions still need to be put on the table.

Guillaume Erner receives Étienne Decrolyvirologist, director of research at CNRS in the Laboratory of Architecture and Function of Biological Macromolecules (AFMB) at the University of Aix-Marseille.

You can listen to the full interview by clicking on the player in the upper left corner of this page.

The father of the virus, still not found today

Étienne Decroly explains that what we are sure today about the origin of Sars cov 2 is that: “there are distant cousin viruses circulating in bat populations, mainly in China, in the provinces south of the city of Wuhan. On the other hand, these viruses are genetically quite distant from SarsCov2 and are not the direct parents.. The reservoir, the virus family, is clearly identified, on the other hand “What we lack are the elements underlying the transmission and evolution of these viruses from the reservoir to human populations.”

The parent of the virus exists, but where does it exist and what are the chains of transmission? Étienne Decroly remember it hasn’t been found yet. “The question is where it exists and what are the chains of transmission that led the parent to end up in a human population. The preliminary hypothesis was that it was a zoonosis (we know that species barriers are crossed by intermediate hosts in general) and that the virus, step by step, adapts to become infectious in a new species. So what we expect to find in a virus of natural origin is, somewhere, in an intermediate host, a virus that is the virus that generated the epidemic.

But more than two years later, despite a very large sampling, this (parent) virus has not been found so far. Étienne Decroly returns to the once advanced hypothesis of the pangolin: “The pangolin was excluded more than a year and a half ago, but it is a pangolin-like host that we are looking for to find this parent virus, in an animal, for example, sold in the market in Wuhan… for a virus that is genetically very close to the one. Sars cov 2 and unfortunately over 120,000 samples were collected to try to find this progenitor, this father of the epidemic, and today these samples have not resulted in finding the virus causing the outbreak.”

The possibility of a laboratory accident cannot be completely excluded.

In its new report, the WHO explains that this hypothesis should also be studied – in the same way as the others. Because ?

Étienne Decroly indicates that laboratories in the city of Wuhan are working on coronaviruses to understand the species barrier crossing mechanisms. “Their job was to collect natural viruses from nature to sequence them, sometimes to be able to grow them and possibly study them in cellular systems or in animal models. This is done to understand how these viruses are able to cross the species barrier and therefore can become infectious in another species, such as the human species.”

According to Étienne Decrolythe hypothesis of the origin of the virus coming from a laboratory supposes a possible accident during one of these experiments. “An experimenter may have been infected or laboratory effluents may have been contaminated with this virus, with an accidental return to human laboratory populations.

“Laboratory accidents exist, they are rare, but they have occurred and accidents have already been listed”to remember Étienne Decroly.

Economist Jeffrey Sachs’s Hypothesis

Étienne Decroly returns to the hypothesis presented by Jeffrey Sachs. The American economist recalled this, as Etienne Decroly says: “A charity called EcoHealth Alliance, funded largely by the US government, aimed to conduct virus harvesting experiments and experiments to understand species barrier crossing. This association was funded by the US state to carry out experiments partly in the United States and partly in various laboratories around the world, including the one in Wuhan. The hypothesis is that some of the work funded by this association could have led to the collection of samples in China. Which could have led, for example, to the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 or to experiments with these viruses that were done, perhaps some in the United States, but mainly in China. These experiments could have led to obtaining the parent virus of the epidemic in the laboratory.

15 minutes

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